Sneak peek – Forged Reality

March 31, 2016

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FORGED REALITY
Fractured Souls Book Two

SPECIAL NOTE: If you have NOT read PIECES OF ME, reading the below text will be a very spoilery!

PIECES OF ME SPOILERS BELOW

Unedited ARC – Chapter One

I teeter on the ledge at the mouth of the vent, ready to jump from the ceiling panel and into the flames. But a hand on my shoulder stops me.

“Mommy, what are you doing?” Angel’s eyes are filled with unfathomable fear. “We just got you. Don’t leave us, Mommy,” she begs as her small fingers dig into my raw skin.

The pain sends pixels bouncing through my vision, and my thoughts focus on the boy trapped in the inferno below. He’s going to die if I don’t get in there.

“Just stay here; Ian needs my help.” I pry myself from her grasp and scoot closer to the opening, but she grabs me again.

Her soot blackened face is marred with tears now, and she sobs, “Please save us. Save us.” Her tone tells me what my mind already knows, but I can’t listen. I can’t give up before I’ve even tried.

I twist my face towards the flames and search for a glimpse of Ian, hurt and possibly dying from the gunshot wounds he received in our place. My breath catches in my throat when his pleading eyes connect with mine.

“Please, Braidan.” I hear his voice, but his lips aren’t moving. “Please,” he rasps, begging.

Is he telling me to save him? I shake the thought away.

No. No. He said Go. Didn’t he? He told me to go. Right? I pick through the words I’ve just heard but I can’t find any to find any confirmation.

My heart squeezes and tears tumble down my face as I gaze into his insistent eyes.

“Please.”

“What am I supposed to do?” My voice trembles as I call into the fiery void beneath me.

His hand reaches impossibly through the distance that separates us, and I feel his thumb brush against my cheek. “You’ve already made your choice.” His voice breaks, and his hand falls away as his body tips backwards. His eyes are still and blank as he crashes to the floor behind the couch.

“Ian!” I scream as the flames lick the opening where I’m still seated.

My hesitance has killed him… again.

Grief bursts in my chest, and the wail erupts from deep within my soul as I hear his voice in my mind.

You can save me, Bray.

I grasp my head, trying to soothe the searing pain in my temples and push myself forward into the room, away from Angel and the other girls in the air shaft. The throbbing grows more powerful as I fall, making sure not to catch myself. It’s better this way. I should die now with my guilt.

This will surely take away the pain.

~

“Braidan, wake up. You’re having a nightmare.” The voice is slurred and tired. “Wake up, babe,” he says, shaking me gently.

I suck back the sob and sit up in bed, my head still throbbing.

“You okay?” Lucas asks, but I’m not sure he really wants to know I’ve just had another nightmare about Ian.

“I… I’m fine. Just another headache. I’m sorry to wake you.” My words shake as I come to reality.

“You need me to get you something?” he asks rolling over in bed and stuffing his pillow tighter under his head. I know he’ll find me anything if I ask, but my guilt is too much to bear, so I decide to take it on myself.

“No, it’s fine. I’ll go take something.” I twist my body from the tangle of covers and slip my robe over my shoulders.

When he doesn’t speak another word, I know he’s probably already asleep again. I can’t be mad at him for that. He hasn’t been able to sleep fully through the night since we married eleven months ago. And it’s not like he can do anything to help me through this either. He’s tried, but all he can do is comfort me, and I’ve already decided I’m not even worthy of that.

Since the nightmares haven’t stopped, Mom had recommended I start taking a sleeping pill. They are supposed to calm my mind and help me rest, but they only work a tenth of the time. And not sleeping for nine days in a row has been hectic on my family… and my new marriage.

I creep through the large house, past the master bedroom where my parents sleep, past my brothers’ shared room, past the four shared rooms of my ten identical replicas, and finally down the sprawling staircase towards the kitchen.

The tiles are cold on my bare feet as I tiptoe across them, heading for the sink and the trusty bottle of meds. The migraine will last for several days if I don’t get something into my system within the first few minutes after the throbbing begins. And since I woke with it, I have no idea how long ago it started or if my feeble efforts will be useless.

I fumble with the childproof cap, resisting the urge to curse when I can’t get my muscles to obey the simplest of commands. Frustrated with my lack of coordination, my mind roams back to six months ago when I would have been able to use my video-game mode to manipulate the bottle and rip it open, but now those abilities are only a fleeting memory.

When my abilities first short circuited, I mentioned something to my parents, but they thought I was experiencing late but severe jet lag from our move to Austria. But over the next few weeks my brain began to fuzz and change. I could no longer bring my mind online with a simple flick. It required intense concentration. Then if I actually achieved any telekinetic abilities, they would fade and wither away.

I mentioned it another time, but my mom didn’t seemed concerned. On the contrary, it was almost as if she had wanted them to stay away forever. But that can’t be right. They can’t  actually want my abilities to completely fade, can they?

After this confrontation, I knew telling Dad would be much of the same, so I stopped talking about it all together. And no one asked.

It has been months now since I’ve felt even a hint of supernatural powers of any sort, and I feel like I might barely remember how to use them even if they did come back online.

But it’s better this way.

Right?

Better for everyone. For me. For Lucas. For my parents. My brothers. And definitely better for Angel and the other nine girls.

After a few more seconds of struggling with the pill bottle, I’m relieved to hear the tabs click and feel the lid twist under my grasp. Barely counting, I pop four little white pills and chase them down with water. I offer an audible prayer that they’ll work like magic, but I know I have a good twenty minutes before any relief will come.

The heat in my head makes me envious of my feet, so I melt to the ground and lay my cheek on the cold white tiles.

Temporary relief.

I hate to admit it, but I’m sure the worsening migraines are connected to the loss of my abilities, like my brain is fighting against whatever is going on inside me. Maybe it’s a side effect of ALYX and everything it did to me. Maybe the moment that machine coaxed my body to repair itself it set in motion a process that will continue without my ability to stop it. Maybe it’s only a matter of time before it fixes my headaches too. And then I’ll truly be normal again.

Normal.

The very thought sends shudders through my perplexed soul. I’ve always longed to be normal, and now that it’s possibly looming on the horizon, I want to take back every prayer I ever uttered in request for it.

No, Braidan. That’s selfish. Just deal with the headaches and press through. Even if the headaches never go away, I’ll take this side effect over the uncontrolled urges the machine had fixed.

I turn my face and rest my forehead on another cool tile.

My dad believes stress is the trigger of my headaches, but there’s no way to know. If anything, we tried to de-stress by moving overseas, settling into a tiny mountain community with little interference from the outside world. The closest town is 45 kilometers down the mountain, and when we go shopping, we only bring one girl with us, so we don’t turn any heads. We have literally everything we could desire on our mountaintop paradise. It is the perfect life.

Maybe too perfect.

I slither across the floor, searching for tiles I haven’t already warmed. Twisting my face towards the coolness, I stretch out my palms to the tiles above my head.

My heart quickens at the thought of it being Angel’s turn to go to town this week.

Angel, my true identical replica. My clone.

We always have a great day, but during the last few trips into town while practicing controlling her emerging abilities, she’s opened up about some weird stuff that has been happening when she’s worked up with her sisters or my brothers. Stuff that shakes me to the core and reminds me of myself before the accident that took my sisters life. With the way her eyes bug out when she explains to me how she feels, I know she’s afraid of becoming the version of me she can’t control, and though I won’t admit it, maybe even a stronger version. My abilities pale in comparison to the small things she has been able to show me so far. I argue with myself that it’s because she has me to help her learn and hone, but something wiggles uneasily in my gut every time she does something new. Something better. Something amazing.

These realizations alone should have sent me running to my parents for fear of repeating the horrors of my own life, but something holds me back. I know my parents, even Lucas, suspect she might lose control someday, but I just don’t see it. She learned of her abilities way earlier than I did, and she’s handling her emotions so much better.

Dad has asked about her emotional stability, and since I don’t feel she has much of an issue with it, I’ve been able to tell him I thought she was pretty normal for a ten year old. He’s tried to dig deeper, but when I fail to offer any other information, he usually launches into questions about her abilities. He almost seems excited about the prospect, which is confusing since he’s done nothing short of hoping she doesn’t inherit my issues. He says it’s the science dad getting the best of him, which I agree with. Though he’s tried, he’s never quite been able to turn off that part of him. He’s still fascinated that clones live in his care, under his roof. These clones who were created as pawns in some war game.

Angel is the only one of the ten who knows the real reason they were created—why Saber injected them with serums, what he was planning, and the possible emerging horrors waiting inside her veins. We felt preparing her would be way more beneficial than dealing with the aftermath of even the slightest potential of tragedy.

A new pang of guilt echoes around my heart as my mind blinks with the face of my twin sister, Haven. The tears come quickly as I remember the fateful day, right before I begged my parents for help. I lashed out at my sister, thinking she was my enemy instead of the innocent she’d been. I took her life that day and eventually sent everyone into hiding.

We had to move, change our last name, and start all over again. Everyone took new first names as well, but I clung to mine. It was my only link to my twin sister, and I didn’t want to let it go. But as each day passed, it grew harder and harder not to explode from the guilt and pain of the whole situation.

Dad decided after one particularly hard day that enough was enough, and I had to embrace a new name and work to put the past behind me.

I cried for a week, feeling Haven’s loss all over again. Like if I took on another name, she’d somehow see me as selfish, running from the pain. A pain I know I deserve.

Even as gut-wrenching as it was, I knew my dad was right. I had to lift myself out of this valley of death and move towards the future. I was just so scared of losing my only connection.

I took on the name Braidan, which means dweller of the broad valley. And while it is my goal to remove myself from this valley, I refuse to forget what she meant to me.

Not ever.

Focusing on the present, not the past, has always been a chore, and as I try to push the old me from my memory I feel my heart ripping apart… all over again. Half by my selfishness in not saving Ian and the other by killing Haven.

I’m broken.

Pieces of me wish I could go back to the way it was before. Before I remembered who I was. Before I remembered what I’d done.

I push myself off the floor, fighting the urge to puke from the pain zipping through my skull. I stumble to the kitchen island, which offers me solid support as I stumble across the room towards the built-in desk. The old wooden chair is pulled out, as if it knew I’d need its strength tonight. Gingerly, I seat myself and pull in a full but shaky breath.

Lucas won’t be happy if he finds out what I am about to do, but without my abilities this is the only way to remind myself that everything I’ve been through has been real.

My hands sift methodically through the pull-out drawer under the desk, searching for the small beige pocket-sized notebook. I find it resting near the back, and as I draw it out, I take in the painfully worn cover.

Mom and Dad have begged me to leave the past in the past. They claim healing will come more quickly if I can just allow these mementos to fade with time. But I can’t. It’s as if my very life and breath connect to these memories. And in a way, they do. Even if they didn’t believe it, these memories remind me that whatever this life brings me, something important can always come of it.

The elastic fastening the bulging pages is stretched and crumbling, as if to say it’s worn out and ready to depart this life. But I’m not ready to let that happen. I pull gently, and the band comes free from the book, allowing the pages to puff open in relief. I stare at the varied colors sticking over the sides of the paper and inhale as deeply as I can, pulling the scent of the memories. I easily push aside the small beige cover, and a breath catches in my throat.

The tattered yellow sticky-note affixed to the front page is exactly what I’ve come for.

oldnote

The edges of the sticky note are dark with the pain of the past. Resisting the temptation to remove it from the page, I play with the edge of it, just as I’ve done the last thousand times I’ve resorted to this book for sanity.

The note reminds me of everything I went through to get where I am today—the choices I made leading up the note being written and the unknowing choices I made following the return of Ian to my life. I flip through the book to reassure myself his handwritten notes are still affixed near the back. At the sight of his penmanship, my heart bumps awkwardly, and I slam the book closed.

I can’t do it. Not today.

My mind wanders unwillingly back to the moment we knew something had to change in order to live a somewhat normal life outside the eyes of Saber. We searched the world, quite literally, for answers to undo what they did to me, but we came up blank at almost every turn until the day my father stumbled into a dark alley, as we refer to it, and found our only hope. If we could block the memories of who I was, maybe the emotional turmoil in my soul would not have a reason to bubble and surface, and the fear we all lived with would be eradicated.

It seemed like a good decision. No. It was a good decision, regardless the outcome.

It was a good decision, Braidan.

I cringe at hearing the name. I feel like I am in the valley again. I can’t explain it, nor do I want to.

The girls expect a mother who can lead them and guide them through this awkward existence they call life, but I have no answers. I’m just as clueless as they are and can offer nothing but empty hopes and promises.

Mom has tried to allow Lucas and I a chance to parent the girls, but often she steps in when I have no idea what to do or say next. Not many people become parents of ten children at age seventeen, so it’s been quite the learning curve, especially since we didn’t experience raising them from birth. By the time we found them, they already had personalities and habits. It would be different if…

I bite my lip.

Lucas has been talking a lot lately about having a baby. I know it’s the normal thing to do, but bringing another child with my DNA into the current turmoil seems like the wrong thing to do. Besides, I’m barely nineteen. That’s too early for…

Bile rises in my throat as panic starts my heart racing.

When was my last cycle?

With trembling hands, I stash the memories in the back of the drawer and grab my phone. With a few quick swipes, my worst nightmare is confirmed.

I’m eight days late.